I was talking about Thanksgiving recently with a friend. “With all of the current awareness about history, I’m not so sure I like our traditional celebration of Thanksgiving.” Lifting his chin and sniffing ever so slightly, he said, “We shan’t be celebrating it traditionally — if at all — any more.”

I looked at him over the top of my glasses for a moment, sniffed ever so slightly, and said, “Well, we shan!”

But of course his comment got me to thinking.

The history of traditional Thanksgivings has a rose-colored glasses’ patina that many non-Native Americans adopted in the context of a peaceful, nationally recognized holiday. Think pilgrims in hats with buckles, which they probably never had, a buffet of abundant crops shared with the Indians as an expression of gratitude, Indians dressed regally — with peace pipes, and choices of food that included turkey, cranberry sauce (in a can?), and pumpkin pie because, after all, how else do you eat pumpkins? Today, we free a live Butterball turkey in a White House ceremony every year.

For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is an image that jars with the unfolding of subsequent history. The Plymouth (Plimoth today) Indian tribe, the Wampanoags, who participated in the “first” Thanksgiving, numbered in the 40,000 range and had been residents of the area for 15,000 years (think about that). Now, there are approximately 4,000 to 5,000 tribe members. They enjoyed harmony with the Pilgrims for 50 years after the first Thanksgiving, but the King Phillips War decimated this population of Native Americans. They helped the first “settlers” of America when they realized that only half of the Mayflowers passengers would make it through the first winter; their efforts to educate the newcomers helped Pilgrims to survive the first harsh winter.

The first Thanksgiving was to celebrate the “we made it” idea of the Pilgrims. Mutual respect probably abounded on both sides of the equation. For 50 years, the Pilgrims and the Indians lived in harmony. But even before the King Phillips War, there was trouble brewing in the land. Governor Bradford in the late 1630s organized a pogrom to wipe out the Pequot Indians and then declared the anniversary of that day a Thanksgiving of a “bloody victory.”

It’s not all pumpkin pie and gravy.

But do we need to throw away the concept of Thanksgiving, a time to give thanks and to give? Should we make it disappear like Confederate statues?

Nephi Craig, a chef in the White Mountain Apache Tribe, does not think so. He believes that through an awareness of food, the celebration can actually move us forward. “Give thanks for ancestral landscapes” he says as we prepare the celebration. Celebrate what the Indians and the Pilgrims had available. “We can cook and eat our way to peace,” he says as he prepares a feast of celebration in contemporary times.

And if you look at his menu, it resonates with much of the pilgrim tradition: wild rice, roasted squash, three sisters (started by the Iroquois, it consists of squash, beans, and corn grown simultaneously — and it’s as Native American as it comes), a wild bird (wild turkey if available) or elk/deer, and fresh (not canned!) cranberries.

Nephi Craig seeks to modify the tradition, not abolish it. He advocates becoming acutely aware of what you are celebrating without having a misty-eyed view of tradition.

This year, I will probably eat the same things I have always eaten, but when I take a bite of food, I will try to be conscious of the complexity of the cornucopia of a harvest on eastern U.S. soil, with a nod to the natives who were there to help the Pilgrim’s dream survive — at the Indians’ expense. This should not be a simple celebration, but it can still have meaning.

Edward Thompson writes from Frederick and is married to a Choctaw Indian descendent.

(19) comments

Piedmontgardener

Superb, thoughtful LTE. I particularly like the idea of the thanks to the land that has given the table, that's a universal truth. Happy Thanksgiving, Edward, I really like how you write and think.

Blueline

Edward, during the Civil War the Choctaws aligned with the Confederates, supplying troops to the army. At the battles of Pea Ridge, & Jenkins Ferry (& perhaps others) they committed the worst atrocities upon wounded & captured Union troops (including Black soldiers) that even Confederate offices were aghast.

Now, my point is not to vilify anyone for events that happened 160 years or more ago, as all groups have dark periods in the past that can be brought up. The hope is that we can learn from history & move toward building a better society going forward. Happy Thanksgiving.

phydeaux994

“The hope is that we can learn from history & move toward building a better society going forward. Happy Thanksgiving”….And that’s why you’re going to vote for Republibans?? To build a better Society going forward??? Happy Thanksgiving Blueline.

Awteam2021

Blue, the Choctaw Indians in Mississippi were slave owners. That’s what the civil war was fought over, slavery. After the the Confederacy lost, the Choctaw National had to sign a separate agreement to free their slaves, seeing they where not considered part of the United States or the Confederate States of America.

Happy Thanksgiving.

jsklinelga

rlc

" with your view that white Europeans were entitled and even predestined by God to conquer and eradicate the native "savages". Left field is the best description for that remark,

No I view this holiday as a celebration of thanksgiving. We can focus on the negative and hate or we can count our blessings. With your view of history you miss the incredible joy and true thanksgiving that the Pilgrims must have felt in November 1621. A symbol. No matter the hardships, wars, sickness etc. that befalls us we should take a day to be thankful for many blessings we have.

phydeaux994

They did and are doing the same thing with Blacks and other POC jsk. They conquered them 400 years ago and have been trying to eradicate them every since, i.e. Brunswick Georgia. Happy Thanksgiving jsk.

Awteam2021

True. The Pilgrims probably were extremely thankful for surviving those first years of settlement. And yep, they couldn’t survive without the indigenous peoples help and yes we celebrate Thanksgiving argumentatively as much as Christmas. But JSK, why do we celebrate with turkey dinners 🦃? Turkeys aren’t indigenous to that part of North America so there were no turkeys at that first feast. That’s historically incorrect. Right?

See: King Ferdinand of Spain's order, in 1511, ... observed in ‘Food and Health in Early Modern Europe’, turkeys were first introduce to Europe by Spanish conquistadors from want we now call Mexico then brought back to North America by. Europeans in the early 1700’s, two hundred years later ... The story is a self-righteous myth that you’ll want to disbelieve rather foolishly be that you have some God-given superiority over other ethnicities.

jsklinelga

Mr. Thompson,

You are the epitome of the myopic, American bashing pseudointellectual of which a majority of Americans are finally tiring. Mankind, humans have a legacy of war, death and disease from every corner of history. Not just the white Europeans that have become the target of your hate. Instead of focusing on the good and being thankful for the positive you slice and dice history to satisfy your need for guilt and despondency.

Interesting you picked an Apache representative for your example. Here is a brief glimpse of their legacy:

" What Indian tribes fought each other?

Apaches and Navajos, for example, raided both each other and the sedentary Pueblo Indian tribes in an effort to acquire goods through plunder.

Mr. Thompson I am truly sorry you wear dark shades instead of rose colored glasses. You too most think thanksgiving is a measly holiday. I just Thank God you are a minority in thought.

rlc5495

jsklineiga, you are the one who is myopic. Your narrow view doesn't allow you to see anything that doesn't fit in with your view that white Europeans were entitled and even predestined by God to conquer and eradicate the native "savages". Yes the tribes fought one another. However, they didn't systemically destroy an entire civilization. Yes I and my ancestors benefited from this just as we benefited from slavery. That doesn't make it morally right. You are the type of person that believes in American exceptionalism. Your type believes that all this is the will of God. I am a person of deep and abiding faith and the God that I know is the God of love and would never endorse the mistreatment of any human by another. And as for you calling the original missive full of hate, your response was one of the most hateful and bitter things I have had the displeasure to read recently. Sorry that reading the truth enrages you so.

Edward, another excellent contribution to the Letters section of the paper. Happy Thanksgiving.

Piedmontgardener

Ric - unfortunately, he's been on a rampage in these letters that offer any deviation from what he insists we all must bend to - his world view. It's a sad thing to spend so much time lecturing others about how they have to live. Very nicely stated and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Dwasserba

I just read it as a reminder of history, or an anecdote of friendships that sour over time, or a parable of loss(es) barely acknowledged. Yes. Native Americans fought each other. They had equal entitlement. Were they fighting on Thanksgiving? Otherwise not relevant.

veritas

Whoa! jsklinelga, Most of the time I'm at least somewhat aligned with your points of view. That said, I find your response to Mr. Thompson's thoughtful and thought provoking column not just off the mark, but unnecessarily over reactive and mean spirited as well. Calm down, peace out... and have a glorious Thanksgiving.

jsklinelga

veritas

Anger is [perhaps the best expression. I really do not think this country will benefit from 4 more years of America bashing. And that is what this is

"For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is an image that jars with the unfolding of subsequent history." That is not about thanksgiving but a condemnation of our history and growth. We are an organic, dynamic society that has a history of injustices but we also have truly been a light to the world. A true objective history may paint a better picture of what occurred.

Slavery is indefensible and mind baffling but in this country hundreds of thousands fought in a brutal war to end slavery. That is hardly

"white supremacy"

Mean spirited perhaps but I would say angry and fed up.

public-redux

“Slavery is indefensible and mind baffling…”

And your god had no problem with slavery. I’m pleased to see that you think your god was wrong.

jsklinelga

No Public humans produced slavery. God was the force that led 100's of thousands into battle to oppose slavery Yes there were those that used God errantly to justify slavery but they did not prevail. Lincoln in his Thanksgiving proclamation offered a great discourse on God's involvement.

But in todays society there are many like yourself that do not believe in God subsequently Thanksgiving to God would be pointless. But thankfully as recent national events have shown they are still in the minority.

threecents

We did what we did, and we are what we are, and we will never be great if we don't acknowledge it. Stop holding us back from greatness.

threecents

I think the Old Testament God was OK with the concept of slavery, but then he had a progressive son who nixed it. Apparently he also gave the OK for pork and shellfish.

veritas

jsk... I too am fed up with America bashing. I just don't consider acknowledging and addressing that Native Americans in particular have the capacity and the right to view Thanksgiving through a different lens than we descendants of non-indigenous people. I also think America has the strength and wisdom to handle such diversions of opinion just fine. Finally, one more observation... Don't you know by now not to engage public's obsession with God-trolling?

public-redux

god-trolling? I thought I was being anti-slavery. [wink]

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